HSC Ghana team member reminisces about her grandmother: “Stories from Maamaa”
by Cleo Blacke, Co-Coordinator HSC Ghana
When I was a child my siblings and I spent a lot of school holidays in the village visiting our grandmother. My grandmother, a small woman in her seventies, walked to her farm every Saturday to collect firewood and food. Maamaa, as we all called her, lived a full life until she passed away at seventy-five years old. She was in her church choir and drama group. Maamaa (pictured left) loved to tell her grandchildren stories. I don’t know which of her stories were passed on from her own mother and grandmother, and which ones she made up herself, but every time I went to visit in the village, I especially looked forward to story time with Maamaa.
This is one of Maamaa’s amazing stories as she told it:
"There was once a little girl who lived with her father, her stepmother, and her stepsister. The stepmother and stepsister were very unkind to the little girl and made her do all the chores at home.
One day, the stepmother sent the little girl to the farm to collect twelve garden eggs. The little girl was to bring back exactly twelve garden eggs, or she would be punished. On her way back home from the farm, she met an old woman who looked frail and hungry. 'Give me one of your garden eggs to make a stew,' the old woman begged.
The little girl knew she would be in big trouble if she did not return home with twelve garden eggs, but she felt sorry for the old woman, so she gave her one. The old woman thanked the little girl and went on her way.
The stepmother counted the garden eggs on her return home and became furious when she only found eleven. The little girl explained why she was missing one garden egg, but her stepmother became angrier and beat her up.
'You must go back and find that old woman and take back the garden egg,' the stepmother said.
The little girl did not know where to find the old woman, so she walked back to the path leading to the farm. When she got to the place she met the old woman, she sat down and started to cry. To the little girl’s surprise, the old woman reappeared and asked why she was crying. The little girl explained what had happened at home, but the old woman explained she had already cooked and eaten the garden egg. 'Come with me to my house. Maybe I can give you something to take back home to give your stepmother,' the old woman said.
'Go into that little hut. You will find two pots. You may take whichever one you want back home with you,' the old woman instructed when they got to her house.
The little girl knew a pot would not appease her stepmother but she did as the old woman asked. In the hut, the little girl found two pots filled with water. One pot of water was muddy and filled with dirt and the other pot of water was clean and clear. The little girl took the muddy pot of water so that the old woman would not have to make the long walk back to the river to fetch clean water.
'When you get home, take the pot of water into a room, lock the door, and sing this song. After singing, whatever appears in the pot will be yours,' the old woman instructed.
(The singing part was always my favorite. We used to sing along when Maamaa got to this part.)
The girl thanked the old woman and carried the pot of water home. The stepmother was even more furious when the little girl returned with a pot of muddy water.
The little girl took the pot of water into a room and locked the door. She sang the song the old woman taught her, and, lo and behold, the pot of muddy water had turned into a pot of gold.
When her stepmother saw the pot of gold she became overjoyed, but she was greedy. She instructed her own daughter to go to the farm and collect twelve garden eggs, find the old woman, and give her one garden egg, so that she, too, could return home with another magical pot of gold.
Just as it happened before, the stepsister came across the old woman on her walk back from the farm. However this time, the old woman did not want a garden egg, so she did not ask for one. The stepsister begged the old woman to take one garden egg from the twelve, and finally, she did and went on her way.
Later that day, the stepsister was back on the path, crying, and looking for the old woman.
'I told you I did not want a garden egg,' the old woman told her.
'Well, you must give me something else in return, or my mother will beat me again,' the stepsister demanded.
The old woman took the stepsister to her house.
Without waiting for the old woman’s permission and instructions, the stepsister went into the hut and found two pots of water, just as she had expected.
'What would I do with a pot of muddy water?' the stepsister said to herself, and so she took the pot with clean water and went home.
The stepmother was jumping with joy when her daughter returned with a pot. The two of them quickly locked themselves in a room and started singing the magical song. But instead of gold, thousands of bees came swarming out of the pot and stung them repeatedly. When the stepmother and stepsister came out of the room they were ashamed and filled with regret over their actions. The little girl forgave her stepmother and stepsister, and they all lived a happy life from that day."
When Maamaa told her stories, she did not only want to entertain us; she also wanted to teach us important life lessons that would make us good human beings. At the end of her stories, we would always talk about the lessons. In this case, that we should treat everyone with equal respect and kindness; that we should always endeavor to help those in need, even in the face of adversity; and that we should forgive those who have wronged us.
Today, I attribute my love of music to those nights growing up when we sang along to the songs in Maamaa’s stories, and she would teach us songs in our local dialects from her hymn book. Singing together is a family tradition that we still carry on every time we all meet, and I hope it is a tradition that our children and their children continue after we are gone.
In a country where witchcraft is considered real, and almost always believed to be an evil force of destruction and pain, especially if a woman is behind it, Maamaa’s story was one of the first instances when I experienced positive witchcraft in an African story. That, for me, was the most important lesson of all and set me up to be the person that I am today.